Evolution, Part III: The Fossil Record

Trilobite - Evolution, Fossil Record

Read Part I, Part II

Next, we turn our attention to the fossil record.  As stated in Part I, the fossil record does illustrate an increase in complexity over time, from single-celled to multi-celled to more complicated life, as evolution predicts.  But does the rest of the fossil record match up with the evolutionary model?

The General Pattern

Classic evolution predicts a pattern where one organism evolves into two and then four and then eight, etc., with increasing complexity, until we get the tremendous diversity we see today.  Such a “bottom up” pattern is what evolution requires if the mechanisms are random mutation and natural selection.  With a bottom up pattern, we would expect to see small-scale diversity among species to precede the large-scale disparity between genera, families, etc.1.  For instance, a given species should evolve into two different but related species.  Then, as these species evolve and split further, they become more diverse until a new genus is born, followed by a new family, etc.

Unfortunately for evolution, such a neat “tree of life” is not what we see in the fossil record.  In fact, we see practically the opposite.  Rather than a “bottom up” approach we see a larger “top down” pattern2.  In the top down pattern, we see the explosive appearance of almost all unique and disparate phyla, followed by the diversification of class, genus, family, etc. within phyla.  This pattern poses a significant challenge to evolutionary thought.

The Cambrian Explosion

The most famous “exception” to Darwin’s tree of life is the so-called Cambrian Explosion, where 20 of the 27 phyla found in the fossil record suddenly appeared3.  There are no known transitional forms between the Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian life forms to make this explosion fit within the Darwinian paradigm4.  Charles Darwin admitted that the Cambrian Explosion represented the “single greatest challenge to my theory.”  He assumed that as the fossil record became more complete, this objection would go away.  However, 150 years later, it remains.

Further, the Cambrian Explosion is not an exception at all.  While it is the largest sudden emergence of life forms, it is not at all the only one.  Other such “discontinuities” appear in the Ordovician, Devonian, and Triassic periods.  Such discontinuities are not the exception, but the rule5.  Across the entire fossil record we see a pattern of the sudden emergence of life forms, their continuance relatively unchanged for an extended period, followed by extinction.  There is simply not a pattern of gradual change and diversification as evolution predicts.

Transitional Fossils

If evolution is true, we would expect to find a great many “transitional” fossils that account for the progression of one life form into others.  Given the great diversity present in life today, such transitional fossils should arguably be more present in the fossil record than anything else.  Darwin himself acknowledged this fact6.

However, such transitional fossils are rare by any standard.  While there are supposed transitional examples evolutionists point to, all are debated to some extent7.  And even the ones that are used are the rare exception.  On the other hand, we have no examples of transitions or “missing links” for prokaryotes and eukaryotes, single-celled and multi-celled organisms, invertebrates and vertebrates, fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, primate and other mammals, etc8.  The list goes on and on.

One classic example used to illustrate transition is the Archaeopteryx.  It is supposedly a striking example of the evolution from reptiles/dinosaurs into birds because it shares features common to both distinct classes.  However, the facts are not nearly as conclusive as the narrative suggests.

First of all, there is no debate that, in total, Archaeopteryx is a bird9.  But it does share features common with reptiles.  This fact alone however, does not make it a transitional animal.  For example, bats are not considered transitions between mammals and birds despite sharing features of both.  Neither do platypuses represent a transition between mammals and ducks10.

Such “chimeras,” that share qualities of different types of animals, are unique but not transitional.  In fact, they are not what evolution would actually predict.  We should not find animals that are a combination of fully developed features from different animal groups.  Rather, we should find animals with morphological features (body plans and parts) that are themselves in various stages of development.  For instance, in the supposed evolution of apes and men, we should not see a combination of ape hips and human feet, but rather hips and feet that are both somewhere in-between those found on apes and humans.  Evolution has to account for the transition of the body parts themselves if true.

As a final point about Archaeopteryx, archeologists have found multiple other fossils, that are fully birds, which supposedly predate Archaeopteryx by 60-75 million years11.  Consequently, Archaeopteryx cannot be the transitional form for something that had already existed for tens of millions of years!

The development of whales through such transitional animals as Pakicetus and Ambulocetus is another textbook example used to support the theory of evolution.  However, again, the reality is much different and the supposed transformation is based much more on the ingoing presumption of evolution rather than any evidence for it.

For example, Pakicetus is considered a transitional fossil since it resembles a wolf-like creature with an inner ear like that of a whale.  However, what you aren’t told is that the original Pakicetus’ fossils only included partial bones of the skull, with nothing of the rest of the body12!  Despite this fact, it was initially described as a partially aquatic mammal.  It’s entire role as a transitional fossil was based on a debatable conclusion about its inner ear.  But as new fossils were found, that showed more of the body, it became clear that Pakicetus was a four-legged, land-dwelling, running mammal, not semi-aquatic13.

Ambulocetus is another famous whale “missing link.”  However, it’s reconstruction is also based on very incomplete fossils.  Most importantly, the pelvic girdle is not preserved, so any reconstructions of what Ambulocetus looked like necessarily involves much speculation14.  Not surprisingly, since evolutionists fill in the missing pieces, we end up with a potential missing link!

There are other creatures evolutionists claim clearly bridge the gap between land mammals and whales including Maiacetus, Kutchicetus, Rodhocetus, Dorudon, and Basilosaurus15.  While these animals illustrate a variety of partially aquatic (e.g. otters) and fully aquatic (e.g. whales) mammals, they do not illustrate the transition between the two.  The transition between partially aquatic and fully aquatic requires many specialized adaptations including ingeniously effective tail flukes, dorsal fins, blowholes instead of nostrils, specialized reproductive organs, and cardiovascular differences that allow dives of thousands of meters16!  The supposed transitional forms do not show any of these.  Finally, the time required to effectively “fix” the number of mutations required for whales to evolve surpasses, by many orders of magnitude, the supposed 8 million years that evolutionists estimate was available based on their fossil timeline17.

The bottom line is that transitional forms, despite the evolutionary prediction of countless examples, are at best rare.  And even the rare examples we have are clearly debatable and subject to much speculation and interpretation.  Perhaps that is because these “missing links” simply don’t exist.


  1. Meyer, Dr. Stephen. Darwin’s Doubt.  New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers 2013.  40
  2. Pg. 39-43
  3. Pg. 31
  4. Pg. 7
  5. Pg. 15
  6. Sarfatti, Dr. Jonathan. Refuting Evolution 2.  Green Forest, AR: Master Books, Inc. 2005.  130
  7. Pg. 129.
  8. Brown, Dr. Walt. In The Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood.  Phoenix, AZ:  Center for Scientific Creation 2008 (8thedition).  11-12.
  9. Sarfatti, Dr. Jonathan. Cit.  Pg. 131
  10. Weiland, Dr. Carl. https://creation.com/Archaeopteryx
  11. Combination of Weiland, Dr. Carl. https://creation.com/Archaeopteryx and Gish, Dr. Duane.  https://www.icr.org/article/321/
  12. Sarfatti, Dr. Jonathan. Op. Cit. Pg. 135-136
  13. Pg. 137
  14. Pg. 138-139
  15. Wells, Dr. Jonathan. Zombie Science: More Icons of Evolution. Seattle, WA:  Discovery Institute 2017.  101.
  16. Pgs. 104-109.
  17. Pgs. 112-113.